Apinsiri Snamthong’s parents live 8,600 miles from Forest Park, in Bangkok, Thailand, the country’s capital city. It’s just one of several areas in the country that has been flooded for weeks, now, due to heavy rains.
The death toll throughout the country has already exceeded 600 and, needless to say, Apinsiri, a 36-year-old Chicagoan who is a member of Forest Park’s St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church, is very concerned about her family.
She’s not alone in her uneasiness: other ethnic Thai members of St. Paul Thai, 7416 Dixon St., are also worried about friends and family in their native country and are trying to do what they can to offer aid.
The church’s members are responding to the crisis in several ways. Last month, they have sent an initial gift of $2,000 to Pastor Atthasith Chamnan-ua, who was a member of the Thai congregation here while he was student in the U.S. from 2004-2007.
Atthasith’s church in Bangkok is still dry and is being used as an emergency shelter for those left homeless by the flooding.
This week, St. Paul Thai also sent an additional $5,000 it raised during its Thanksgiving service, according to church member Saitong Urramporn.
St. Paul’s current pastor, Rev. Dr. Pongsak Limthongviratn, said that additional tax-deductible donations are being accepted.
Still, this has not quelled church members’ concern for friends and families that have been affected by the flooding.
“My parents’ house has been surrounded by the high, flood waters in all directions since the beginning of October,” Apinsiri said. “At first the people had hope, because the barriers were quite high, but the water came over the barriers and flooded the whole area with dirty, now stagnant, water up to six feet deep.”
Heavy rain has fallen on parts of Thailand for months, now. And Bangkok is located in the south of the country, and is surrounded by rivers and canals, which have added to its flooding problem. There are also growing concerns among officials and residents about health problems that could stem from pollutants in dirty, still water.
“I felt worried and sad at the same time for my family and the whole situation in Thailand,” Apinsiri said. “The flooding is always on my mind. I wish I could be there to be with my family and help with whatever I could before and after the flood.”
“I was very worried at first,” said Wiriya Tipvarakankoon, 41-year-old Ph.D. student at the Lutheran School of Theology, in Chicago, and a member of the St. Paul Thai ministry, “because we didn’t know if my parents’ home and business would be flooded.”
His parents live a half hour drive north of Bangkok, right on a major river. They are on high ground, though; and, so far, both their home and business remain dry.
Monta Limthongviratn, a 53-year-old Thai woman who is also a member of the St. Paul Thai ministry, said her sister and her sister’s husband took their newborn child to a town about an hour east of Bangkok, just to play it safe. Monta’s other sister, who also lives in Bangkok, was using a sandbag barrier for a while to keep water out of her and her husband’s house.
As far as Monta knows they are still dry.
Twelve-year-old Pakorn Urramporn, who comes from northern Thailand, and has been living with his Aunt Saitong here (a St. Paul Thai member), in Forest Park, said, “I feel a little worried about the environment and about the people who aren’t able to work because of the flood.”
When asked how she is responding to her family’s needs, Apinsiri said, “I pray for them. I often call home to talk to my parents and encourage them.” Many of the St. Paul Thai members offered a similar response; what’s more, since October, the congregation has begun every service by praying for the people in Thailand.
It remains an uphill battle for many Thais that have been affected by the flooding.
“Pray that people in Thailand don’t despair,” Monta said. “They need to fight.”
Nick Moroni contributed to this article.